Mets, Padres still in search of elusive first no-no
NEW YORK -- This is neither a grammatical faux pas nor a statement about the batting orders of the teams scheduled to play at Citi Field Monday evening: The Mets and Padres don't have no-hitters. That is a statement of fact, fact that challenges our baseball logic and prompts double takes. How can it be after all these years?
OK, OK, the Padres can be exonerated to a degree. The franchise isn't yet as old as Nolan Ryan was when he pitched his seventh. But it was his seventh. And, though Gaylord Perry, Randy Jones, Kevin Brown, Jake Peavy, LaMarr Hoyt and Mat Latos have pitched for Padres, theirs is not a franchise renowned for pitching. Perhaps no no-hitter is merely an oversight on their part.
The void in the Mets' resumé can't be forgiven any more than they can be explained. They are in their 50th season, and they have had no-hit stuff on their roster almost throughout the lifetime of the franchise. Yet they suffer from the double-negative no no-no. Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Cone, Fernandez, Saberhagen, Leiter and Ryan, yes; no-hitter, never.
Anyway, only two franchises are without one -- and now they engage each other four times in four days. What are the chances? Neither team is blessed with a Tony Gwynn, a John Olerud, a Gary Sheffield or a Mike Piazza these days. So maybe nothing can happen one of these days and add a touch of drama to a summer that has lost most its intrigue for both teams. But why does it feel that zero chance exists for a zero under the H in the final totals? The starting-pitching matchups hardly suggest a no-hitter is in the offing even with Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy already scratched from the Mets' lineup. Then again, they do play four games.
Monday: Tim Stauffer vs. Mike Pelfrey
Tuesday: Wade LeBlanc vs. Chris Capuano
Wednesday: Aaron Harang vs. R. A. Dickey
Thursday: Cory Luebke vs. Jon Niese
* * * *
Though neither team has pitched one -- the Padres are without in 6,795 games and Mets are no-hitter-less in 7,919 -- both franchises have their share of no-no-related history. And, to a degree, the histories are intertwined. The Padres were famously denied a no-hitter in 1970 -- by their manager. Preston Gomez had Cito Gaston pinch-hit for starter Clay Kirby, who had held the Mets without a hit for eight innings. Gaston struck out, and the Mets produced three runs on three hits against Jack Baldschun in the ninth to win, 3-0.
That worked so well that Gomez tried it again when he managed the Astros in 1974. Don Wilson, who had pitched no-hitters for the Astros in 1967 and '69, had held the Reds of Rose, Morgan, Bench and Perez hitless for eight innings on the Astrodome rug; no small accomplishment. Gomez replaced Wilson with a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning, and Perez led off the Reds' ninth with a single. Having scored twice in the fifth on two walks and an error, the Reds won 2-1.
The Padres twice came within one out of a no-hitter, once, against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, last month when Harang and four relievers combined for 8 2/3 innings before Juan Uribe doubled and Dioner Navarro doubled against Luke Gregerson to produce the game's lone run. The Padres' only hit, a single by Cameron Maybin, had come in the fifth.
Their other no-cigar moment had happened in San Diego in 1972 when Steve Arlin held the Phillies hitless until he had retired two batters in the ninth. Denny Doyle singled. At least Arlin won his complete game.
What makes the tale more delicious is that Doyle had denied the Mets and Ryan a no-hitter two years earlier at Shea Stadium, leading off an April game with a single. Ryan, making his first appearance of the year, pitched his first career complete game, striking out 15 and walking six. But he allowed no other hit.
The Express had no other performances of that ilk in his relatively brief Mets teunure, but the franchise's no-hitter -- or near no-hitter -- history is rich, replete with 35 one-hitters, 27 of them complete games and one, by Bobby Jones, in the post-season. And, of course, the Imperfect Game.
Seaver -- who else? -- was responsible for that one, against the Cubs at Shea in July, 1969, and four others among 27. Now that he is a winemaker and less associated with the team and embracing the distinction, he is quite comfortable with the Mets' void. "Let the Padres pitch one," he said, smiling, last month in Cooperstown: "Then the Metsies will be the only ones without one. That's a distinction the others can't have ... and mine will be the closest."
Seaver is the only Mets pitcher to reach the ninth inning with a no-hitter intact. Jimmy Qualls, one of the many unheralded batters to deny the Mets over the years, singled with one out in the ninth, otherwise Seaver's signature game would have been perfect.
The Mets get their Q
From the Imperfect Game
Seaver's lone blemish
Was Jimmy Qualls' fame
Three years later, Seaver carried a no-hitter to the same point. He needed two outs to complete the deal against -- who else? -- the Padres. Leron Lee interfered this time with a single to center.
Gary Gentry, David Cone, Tom Glavine and John Maine reached the eighth inning with the Mets, losing their no-no's, to respectively Ernie Banks in 1970, Felix Jose of the Cardinals in 1991, anonymous Kit Pellow of the Rockies in 2004 and unknown Paul Hoover of the Marlins in 2007. And Pat Zachry reached the ninth -- kinda -- at Wrigley Field in his first start in 1982.
Zachry had surrendered no hits through 7 2/3, but he allowed his second and third walks to his first and fourth batters in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Bob Molinaro pulled a ground ball off the glove of second baseman Wally Backman and into right field. Zachry told the rest of the story after the game:
"I thought it was the ninth ... No, really, I was sure it was the ninth. If Wally makes that play -- tough play -- I'm jumping all over the place, making a fool of myself." Zachry rolled his eyes as only he and Gene Wilder could and went on: "He makes that play, and I know I've got a no-hitter. How stupid would that have looked?"
Fourteen years later, he lifted his embargo and allowed the story to reported.
Maybe his miscalculation has something to do with the last 29 years of no no-hitters by Mets pitchers. But what about those years with Seaver and Koosman and Matlack and Gentry? And Ryan? Cone offered an explaination after he had pitched his one-hitter: "You don't trade away Nolan Ryan and expect to pitch a no-hitter -- ever."
Or as Ron Darling said in September, 1984 after Gooden had missed a no-hitter because of an infield single in the fifth inning. "For us, a no-no must be a no-no."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.